Why I Started Thinking Less: Reflections of a Ruminating Thinker

A photo by Ben White. unsplash.com/photos/9O1oQ9SzQZQ

The sun comes up, the sun goes down – yawn, work, study, converse, sip coffee… you get the point. I more or less have a predictable schedule, so much so that even my “spontaneous” days have a methodical spontaneity; I can pretty much predict what a spontaneous day will look like, and to tell you the truth, it’s getting boring. And then there is my thinking. My thoughts have a cycle of their own; cluttered words that define, question, and reorganize themselves based on each new day. Like the day, my thoughts have a rotation that travels with a familiar repetitious dialogue that keeps me rooted inside my head until sleep arrives. When unconsciousness is attained, I move all my words of thought down into the dimension called “dreams.” But something happened this Friday that reached out into my mind and shifted a thought that changed the cycle, and something extraordinary happened, the cycle of the day changed with it.    

Now, perhaps this new thought about the cycle of thinking is a cycle in itself.  But for now, being that I have not concluded it such, I am assuming it is a new thought. I know Solomon said “there is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9), yet it surely feels that there is something new under my skull.

You see, thoughts are abstract, they don’t really do anything unless used. They don’t seem to care how hard I think about doing, they seem content with being thoughts. I, on the other hand, am left in a state of repetitive misery, trying everything I possibly can to integrate thoughts into an action; I want creation. And there is a cycle to this too. I begin my creative process by You-Tubing Native American drum circles, closing my eyes, and letting my consciousness float away. But just five minutes later I find myself with a hummus sandwich watching police chases and falling cranes, what the hell happened? And the sun comes up, yawn, work, coffee, etc. Until Blink! A light flashes inside of me and exposes a fresh idea that changes everything. It says “don’t think so much, it’s causing you pain, just be OK with reality as it stands today.”  

It was a regular Friday. I was taking a walk when a thought occurred to me. ‘I am just too tired of thinking anymore, it’s not working, and it makes me miserable. Of the time thinking, 50% is spent thinking about who am I? What am I? Where am I?  The other 50% is divided into 30% and 20% – the 30% splits into two, with 15% being in awe and the other 15% questioning if I am really in awe or just escaping reality – and the last 20% is spent reconsidering changing my thought patterns so I can up my awe percentage. Yet this only pushes the 20% into the “questioning” category and I am left with 85% misery. Give or take.’     

And here is where it gets interesting, I suddenly have a thought that said ‘what if you just stop thinking?’ Wait a second, where did this come from? I then proceed to think up every justifiable reason for why “not thinking so much” would be beneficial for me. It turns out – at least according to my thoughts – that there is no such justification, and stopping to think would only make me, well, no one. What would I be if I lived without thinking? 85% nobody. I love thinking, it’s who I identify as. And that’s the point I realized that I was thinking again and in order to stop thinking I had no choice but to not think about whether thinking was good or bad. I just had to jump in- or jump out – of thinking and not think about the why’s and what’s.   

What happened next, although new and stimulating, was a familiar heart-beating excitement, a Eureka moment, where I quickly find Sara – my partner who is perhaps the only person willing to act surprised at each new life changing insight I have – and I proceed to explain how I have finally found peace. She tells me how glad she is, I tell her my life has changed, we hug, I smile, and I know my existential gloom is forever in the past.  

Now normally this –forever in the past existential gloom –  returns rapidly when the new sun arrives. Sara gives me her support and tells me she loves me, and I go back to thinking. But it’s been close to a week now and although it’s lingering, it has yet to grab hold of me.   

Friday: Boy, was I peaceful, with not much thinking, I just looked around and smiled. Saturday came along and because I generally spend a good portion of this day thinking about what god is, is not, exists or not… I had nothing to do so I stopped believing and became an agnostic. That was interesting. Sunday was smooth, and Monday, after a long hike up a mountain, I looked down and felt connected to everything. I simply (without thinking) called that god and became a believer again.    

So I am still not thinking too much, but now another week has passed and I am confused about my definitions. What am I if I can’t describe myself in a relatively stable belief system? Well, to answer that I would need to do more thinking, and that’s just not what I do anymore. So instead I am writing. What’s interesting is that I have spent so much of my life identifying my beliefs that I had forgotten to live them. With only a need to defend them, I was left with very little time to experience.  I am now at a place where each day presents what it does and I am just noticing the experience.

So do I still think? Sure I think, I am thinking right now. I like to think and have no plans of dropping it completely; however, I am aware that I am just a person who experiences these thoughts and not identified as the thinker.  I think but don’t take the thoughts too seriously. I notice my thoughts when they ask me – who are you?  Now that is a thought that I would have tried to answer last Thursday, but today I just say “I don’t know.” But not in that morbid sigh of unanswered gloom that penetrates my being, rather it is an “I don’t know” that sounds more like a curious child answering a knock-knock joke for the first time. Simple.

The sun still comes up and goes down, but instead of the sun being some kind of thought, it has become the sun. There may be nothing new under the sun but the sun looks new from here.  I look at it at sunset, and in that moment I feel awe. My thoughts pop in and ask – what’s so special about the sun? And I answer: It’s not some deep perplexing philosophy about morality and how I identify with reality, nor some existential theory about change and existence, rather, it is the sun and I am enjoying looking at it.

I am simply voicing a personal experiment—or lack of—that I am conducting about thinking. Namely, that when I stopped spending so much of my time thinking about the why’s and what’s I began to notice simple reality.  I notice the trees, people, and even coffee more. I even began to notice my thoughts speaking louder and I am somewhat beginning to enjoy them around. But, I will not let them become louder than my simple existence of noticing. This cycle shift has caused a pause in my need to instantly identify everything (self-included), and in turn, my self-worth has expanded. I am worthy for what I am because that’s what I decided to feel right now, after all, if I don’t need to rip it apart with my thinking, why not feel worthy today. Maybe I will feel happy tomorrow, so many options, who knows?

Chaim Kind
Written by Chaim Kind
Chaim Kind is a researcher in the spiritual psychology lab at Columbia University, Teachers College. The self-proclaimed philosophical poet enjoys pursuing abstract ideas to help untangle the existential strains of the 21st century. As a writer, Chaim prefers to stand where the lines of truth are blurred, frequently shifting between polarities to uncover subjective wholeness. His wife thinks he’s crazy and loves him for it. Reach him at chaimkind@gmail.com.